wild rose

- Review by Oisín Walsh

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Wild Rose is an entertaining, energetic musical that inspires hope but always remains grounded in reality, and the misfortunes that exist within it.

Rose-Lynn Harlan is an aspiring Country singer from Glasgow who has just left prison after serving 12 months on a drug related charge. Firstly, she visits her boyfriend before returning to her mother, Marion, who has been looking after Rose-Lynn’s two young children. Despite her obvious responsibilities, Rose-Lynn has the goal of travelling to Nashville and starting a career as a musician. Her mother thinks this is a fantasy. Maybe she is right. But she is never framed as a villain denying her daughter her dreams, instead she serves to remind Rose-Lynn that she has greater responsibilities; she grounds her in reality. In order to make ends meet, Rose-Lynn becomes a cleaner for wealthy woman, Susannah who gives her the opportunity to pursue her dreams.

Jessie Buckley as Rose-Lynn has both the musical and acting talent to pull off this performance. She succeeds in making the character likable even though it is frustrating to see her putting her own wishes ahead of her children’s well-being. She exceeds a type of charm without ever compromising her uncouth, unvarnished character. Sophie Okonedo gives a great performance as Susannah making her earnest and kind without making her seem naïve to be so trusting and supportive of Rose-Lynn. She seems to be altruistic, not gullible. It’s also nice to see an employer who is encouraging to their employee and doesn’t stand in the way of their preferred career path. To some, it might seem to be the most fantastical part of the film, but I appreciate that the film doesn’t set up a one-dimensional boss for Rose-Lynn to have to stand up to.

The film is paced excellently, no scene outstayed its welcome and each one leads on to the next sensibly, so the narrative always remains clear and easy to follow, even if some of Rose-Lynn’s decisions shock us. We also don’t spend all our time watching scenes where Rose-Lynn tells everyone how great she thinks country music is. Instead we get neat, visual scenes which show us how much she loves it. A favourite of mine is when she is cleaning Susannah’s house, listening to music on her headphones and singing at the top of her lungs, when suddenly band members appear around the house casually accompanying her spontaneous performance. It gives us a chance to appreciate her dreams and revel in her talent without the scene becoming terribly flashy; it’s just fun to watch

This is not a perfect film. The final act feels a little forced but it does serve to provide us with closure so that the audience isn’t left asking, “What if Rose-Lynn made a different decision?” Of course it almost goes without saying that if you don’t enjoy country music, you might find this film torturous because there is a lot of it. Fortunately, I do like country music so this wasn’t an issue at all. However, if you do have a particular hatred of country music you will probably wish a most horrible end for Rose-Lynn after she subjects you to a relentless 2 hours of it. That is probably not the director’s intention.

Wild Rose surprised me. The plot manages to serve up twists and turns quietly, without excessive glamour and without totally derailing the narrative from its course. When the film ends, I hope you feel happy for Rose-Lynn, because despite a shaky introduction, she earns our respect and affection and when she sings on stage, we know that is where she belongs. She is right to fight for that place on the stage.